They set off early the next morning. Rayla said the cave was large and twisty, so they could spend all day exploring it for her rare pokemon. Not to mention… whatever Callum might run into. A pokemon. Hopefully. And the dark-type would get along with everyone and it would all be fine.
“What pokemon are you looking for, again?” he asked Rayla, trying to distract himself.
“I didn’t say!” she answered. She seemed more cheerful this morning. He supposed she must’ve slept better than he did. “It’s a surprise! I’ll tell you when I catch one.”
“Oh, what a coincidence! My pokemon is a surprise too!”
Rayla laughed, which made Callum feel a bit better. Nothing was ever too bad if you could crack jokes and make people laugh, right? Right.
Rayla set a speedy pace which put the idea of further jokes out of Callum’s mind for the time being. It was lucky they’d started out early, because the higher the sun rose in the sky, the more obvious it became that it was going to be a scorching day. Callum was already looking a bit pink by the time they eventually reached the cave, and it was barely gone 11AM!
“Is this the place?” Callum asked.
Rayla eased her rucksack off her shoulders. “I don’t see any other caves around here, do you?”
Callum squinted. The cave opening was large, tall enough to admit two Aunt Amayas standing on top of one another, but the cave structure itself did not seem that large. It opened into a rocky outcrop, but it wasn’t even as large as an average terraced house – it definitely did not look big enough to house the maze that Rayla had talked about.
She seemed unperturbed though. “Do you want to have an early lunch, or wander around for a bit first?”
Callum shrugged. “I’m a bit hungry, but I don’t mind quickly checking the place out.”
Inside, the cave was pleasantly cool. He quickly realised how the cave could be as big as Rayla said without looking too big from the outside; it would’ve been a steep slope downwards if someone hadn’t carved stairs into the rock. There was a rope that he been fixed as a makeshift bannister, which was lucky, because the steps were narrow and uneven in places. Callum probably would’ve gone head over heels and fallen all the way to the bottom, which was… not an inconsiderable distance.
The steps eventually opened out into a large, low-ceilinged space with a deep pool in the middle and three different tunnels branching off it, all heading further underground. Artificial lights had been installed into the wall, so that it wasn’t bright but it wasn’t too dim either. The rangers had obviously attacked this place with safety regulations.
…Yeah I could definitely still get lost in here.
“How are we going to find our way around?” Callum asked.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Rayla said, distractedly looking into the pool. “Hey, this looks really deep. It’s a shame we don’t have a fishing rod or anything. I bet you could pull up some cool pokemon.”
“Maybe if we unravelled string behind us...” he said. Did they have any string? “Or… piles of objects?”
“So a trail of breadcrumbs?”
He shook his head, appalled. “Haven’t you ever read Hansel and Gretel? We’d get lost in here forever just because some pokemon wanted a snack!”
“I meant metaphorically!” Rayla called back. She started down one of the tunnels and Callum had to suddenly scramble to catch up with her. “Hmm… I need somewhere darker...”
“If you fall into one of those cave pools I’m not fishing you out,” Callum said quickly. “I hate the cold. What are you looking for?”
“Somewhere a bit off the beaten track. I think it’ll be too bright for them in here.”
Callum nodded. “Sure, makes sense.” He paused. “Wait, are we talking about your pokemon or mine?”
Rayla also paused. “…I guess both?”
They continued down the tunnel, ignoring some smaller paths that branched off for the sake of not getting lost, until they came to another big cavern. This one was smaller but larger, disappearing up into a dark ceiling, the artificial lights just allowing Callum to make out stalactites hanging from the ceiling. It did feel a bit more like a normal cave in here. Maybe they’d installed less lights on purpose for the pokemon who liked the dark better?
“Doesn’t look like the path goes any further past here,” Callum said. “Let’s head back and have lunch.”
“You go. I think I might camp out here for a bit and see if something shows.” Saying that, Rayla dusted off a rock and sat down, drawing her knees up to her chest.
Callum was about to turn to go, when he realised that Rayla was still only wearing a t-shirt. It was kind of chilly in the cave, and he’d been getting steadily colder the longer they’d been in there. It was easy to forget how sunny it was outside.
He unravelled his scarf and took off his jacket, thrusting them in Rayla’s direction. She took them automatically and then sort of blinked at them a bit.
For some reason, Callum felt suddenly embarrassed. “Just in case you get cold okay see you outside inabitbye!” he blurted, and made a run for it before he could see Rayla’s reaction.
Or at least a quick power-walk.
Why was he acting so weird? Sure, the scarf was like, his signature item, but it was just a scarf.
When he emerged out into the bright sunshine, it was easy to put those thoughts aside. Callum was weird and awkward, nothing new there, Rayla wouldn’t think anything of it, et cetera.
He distracted himself by pulling out his phone and discovering that he had some signal. Grinning, he pulled up his messages to Claudia and—
Drew a blank.
‘Start typing...’ the empty message box said, mockingly. What did he say? It felt a bit weird to tell Claudia about Rayla. ‘Hi, I met this other trainer, and instead of catching a dark-type I beat her to the second Gym and also murdered my feet’? None of it sounded quite right.
Well, maybe he could talk about the cave instead! He had no idea what it was called, but if dark-type pokemon could be found there, he was sure Claudia would know…
He started typing whatever came into his head, but then he looked back over it and frowned. It started normally enough – Hey Claud, hope you’ve been well! – and continued just fine – met a new trainer friend who told me about this cave on Route 4, and – but then rapidly diverted into ‘just kind of weird’ – so I was wondering if you think a dark-type is a good idea for my team, you know what Peanut’s like and I’m not that great at managing pokemon so I was thinking that maybe I shouldn’t—
Callum sighed and quickly deleted the message. He’d been more worried than he’d realised…
Why did he even want a dark-type so badly anyway? To impress Claudia? Well, she was hardly going to be impressed if he messed it up. And… it seemed less important now to impress her. He still really wanted to, but he also had to think about Lin, and Peanut, and even Rayla if they were going to be travelling together. Not that Rayla really probably cared about what pokemon Callum was carrying around, but you know…
Sally was really well-behaved. Maybe it was the flying-type? Maybe it would be fine?
Callum rubbed his face tiredly. I… should definitely have thought harder about this. He could just text Claudia and ask which dark-types she recommended for a beginner, but it seemed kinda… lame. To be relying on her all the time.
What did Rayla say? ‘You just need to concentrate on being yourself, whatever that looks like.’ Uh, yeah, whatever does it look like?
He still didn’t know, but maybe it didn’t look like ‘constantly badgering Claudia for tips on how to raise a dark-type’. Rayla thought he was a really good trainer, somehow! He couldn’t ruin that first impression by relying on someone else all the time!
But still, he did kinda promise Claudia…
A small squeak came from nearby. Callum looked up, blinking, up he didn’t see anything. Then the bushes rustled and made a squeaking noise.
Something making such a cute little noise couldn’t possibly be out to get him, so he smiled. “Hi! Do you want to come out?”
A ralts peeked its head out from behind the bush and then pulled it back again.
Was that the same one from yesterday? Did it follow them all this way? “Hey, it’s okay, buddy. I won’t hurt you.”
Another squeak, but the ralts didn’t come out of hiding.
Callum wasn’t sure what that meant until, with a quiet pop of displaced air, the ralts suddenly appeared next to him. It dropped something in his lap and then promptly vanished again before he could say anything.
It was a small, blue berry. Is it trying to pay us back for last night…?
“Aw, thanks little pal, but it’s okay. The berries were for you! You can have this one back!” He offered it out.
The ralts popped out again, teleporting within arms reach of his hand. To Callum’s surprise, it touched his hand to gently push the berry back towards him.
And then squeaked and teleported behind the bush again. There was a rustle of leaves.
“You really want me to have the berry, huh?” Callum peered at it, but it was just an oran berry, which were safe for… for pretty much anything to eat, really. “Okay then.”
He popped it into his mouth. Ooh, it’s a good one! They can be really sour…
At the sound of another soft pop, he glanced down. The ralts was standing just out of arms reach, studying him from under its helmet. When it saw him looking, it opened its arms wide and let out a trill.
“Uhh...” Callum wasn’t sure what it was trying to do. He mimicked the pose back and grinned. “Yay!”
The ralts let out a noise which was unmistakeably a giggle and vanished. It was back a moment later with another oran berry, and this time it stayed next to Callum when it dropped the berry in his lap. It trilled again.
“Are you trying to cheer me up?” Callum asked.
The ralts threw its arms up in the air. That seemed to be a yes?
He smiled. Cute little thing! I forgot how sensitive psychic-types are to emotions. When they’re paying attention. Maybe it really had been following them all day? Poor buddy must be lonely.
“I’m going to eat with my friend when she comes back, so you should have this one,” Callum said to it.
It looked uncertainly at the berry he was offering and tried to push it towards him again.
“Nuh-uh! I insist!”
This time, the ralts accepted the berry and took an enormous bite (for such a small pokemon). Then, for some reason, it giggled again.
Callum grinned. It was impossible not to feel better in the face of such a cute pokemon. “It’s really nice of you to come and cheer me up. Thanks.”
The ralts bobbed its head, nearly overbalancing due to the disproportionate weight. It used a wave of psychic energy to balance and steady itself, causing goosebumps to rise on Callum’s arm. Just like the teleportation with a berry, it took a lot of advanced control for pokemon to use psychic power in small ways without harming anyone like that. The ralts might be nearly ready to evolve!
“Hey, we’ve got some nice pokemon snacks too. Do you want to try one? They’re made from berries.”
Though it perked up on hearing the word ‘berry’, the ralts didn’t seem sure what to do with the poffin. It sniffed it and took the tiniest bite from the edge of the poffin.
And then shoved the whole thing into its mouth so fast that it accidentally bit its own hand.
Relatable, Callum thought. He gently patted the ralts’s head while it whimpered.
Callum reached for a potion spray and had to spend a while trying to explain healing potions to a wild pokemon. The ralts didn’t run away at the sting of the medicine, although it cried a bit more until Callum hand-fed it another poffin.
That may just have been a plot to get more poffins, but the ralts was too cute for Callum to complain about it.
The ralts’s hand was feeling better in no time. It gave Callum a hopeful expression.
“If you want more poffins, you have to meet my other pokemon and share,” he said. “They’re supposed to be their snacks. You can’t have them all.”
It tapped the pokeballs at his belt and threw its arms up in the air again. Maybe it was actually excited to say hi? Other pokemon were probably less scary than people.
But as soon as he released Lin and Peanut from their pokeballs, the ralts vanished again. He slumped his shoulders, disappointed. Reading pokemon was hard, but he’d been so sure...
“Sorry, guys,” he said to a confused Lin and Peanut. “I thought we might have a new friend, but—”
The ralts reappeared again with a small mountain of oran berries in its arms, dropping them at the other pokemon’s feet. It let out a cheerful trill and threw it’s arms up again. Lin happily squeaked back and mimicked the gesture, whilst Peanut just nodded and ate a berry in one gulp.
It… came back.
The ralts picked up another berry and offered it to Callum. There was no other way to describe its expression other than ‘a hopeful smile.’
A psychic-type. He knew about psychic-types, right? At least a bit. And Rayla knew about fairy-types, so she could help him out too—maybe it was because she was there, but it didn’t feel like cheating, like the idea of asking Claudia for help did.
Callum smiled back. “Do you want to stick around for a while with us? I know my friend Rayla scared you last time, but I promise she’s cool. You’ll like her.”
The ralts squeaked and bobbed its head, waving the berry more insistently at Callum.
He laughed. “Okay, okay, I get it!”
He reached out to take the berry only for Peanut to snatch it up before he could grab it. The ralts pouted and threw a berry at Peanut’s head. Callum had to laugh at Peanut’s indignant expression. Seems like they get along just fine.
When Rayla came up from the cave half an hour later, she one look at the ralts, complete with bloated belly from too many snacks, napping in a pile with Lin and Peanut. She gave him a questioning look.
“I think she’s staying,” Callum said.
Even Callum had to admit that the ralts, called Sabriel, very quickly had him wrapped around her little finger. She liked to walk around with them out of her pokeball despite being terribly slow, but he learned that if they just walked at a normal pace she’d eventually use teleport to catch up to them. It was just as well she seemed to like exercise, because Callum’s supply of poffins rapidly depleted.
“That is one spoiled little ralts,” Rayla said. She looked like she was about to shake her head, but then remembered at the last minute that her new noibat, Hercule, was hanging upside down from her horns.
Callum never thought he’d be able to identify the movement of someone about to shake their head but who didn’t actually do it. You learned something new every day!
It had taken Rayla an entire day and a half to find the little pokemon, which was maybe why she’d settled for one that wanted to do nothing more than sleep all the time. I could understand if he was nocturnal, but he’s not! He sleeps then too!
So Callum was not about to complain about Sabriel. Rayla seemed happy with her noibat, but from his perspective, it could’ve been worse. Having Sabriel out and about all the time helped him to refine her teleporting skills too! She was a natural and was quickly able to teleport larger and larger objects, and eventually Lin (Lin did not enjoy this) without trouble at all. Maybe they could work up to people soon! Then he’d only have to catch a flight back home to show her where it was and Sabriel would be able to teleport him for a visit any time!
Maybe then she would steal treats from Ezran instead of from Callum. A guy could dream.
Rayla also managed to train her noibat in the rare moments he was awake. These always seemed to happen when Callum wasn’t watching so he only had her word for it.
They passed the rest of the trip to Borderlodge City training their pokemon along the road. The time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, even though Callum knew it took them double the normal time to get there.
Aunt Amaya chewed him out at the Pokemon Centre again until he was able to explain that no, they really did just take that long. He was able to use the future promise of Sabriel’s teleporting to get her to forgive him. Callum may or may not have implied that it took so long because he was searching for a ralts like Sabriel, but as long as Rayla didn’t blab, his kneecaps would be safe.
It was nice to eat food that he hadn’t cooked himself and the thought of a proper shower and bed was sheer delight. So he was caught totally off guard when Rayla burst this bubble of euphoria with a serious question:
“What are you going to do about the Gym?”
“…Uh. Yes. The Gym.” Callum had honestly not thought this far ahead. “That thing and the plan I have for it. Which is… a secret.”
Rayla snorted and did not even to call him on this terrible lie, which stung a little. Could she not just pretend it wasn’t so blatantly transparent? For the sake of his ego? “I wasn’t going to mention it because I thought you were going to catch a dark-type, but now you have Sabriel, so...”
And Peanut hadn’t copied any moves super effective against psychic-types, and Lin was a fighting-type. It was going to be an uphill battle for sure. Curse him for not thinking far enough ahead—wait, no, for thinking too far ahead.
“Ah…” He scratched his head. “I know a bit about psychic-type pokemon. I’m sure I can come up with something.”
If he really needed to, he could call Harrow and ask for tips. Harrow had personally taught the Gym Leader here, Opeli, when he was in the Gym Leader circuit, so he must know something about her. But… it felt like cheating. Callum couldn’t help but think of how proud Harrow would be if he beat the psychic Gym all by himself.
“Oh. Okay.” He blushed a little at how Rayla immediately accepted this reasoning and didn’t press. It was a bit strange for someone to have so much faith in him. “Well, would you come try the Bug-Catching Competition with me anyway? It seems like it might be fun.”
“What?” Callum blurted. Rayla pointed and he spun on the spot to be confronted with a massive sign which read Bug-Catching Competition: every Sunday in Banther Park, 3pm! “Oh. Well, that makes life easier.”
Rayla giggled. “Did you really not notice? I assumed you’d seen it and maybe you didn’t like bug-types or something.”
“No, I don’t mind them… I’m just that dense, I guess.”
She elbowed him and glared a bit, which she had started to do a lot lately when he said anything self-deprecating.
“Nuh-uh! You gotta let me have that one! Look at the size of this thing!” He stuck his tongue out at her and she laughed.
“I guess you’ve got a point,” she said. “They did pick a particularly eye-melting shade of green. Dunno how ye missed it.”
“Nights of study in the art of obliviousness,” Callum quipped, and he was rewarded for his wit when Rayla laughed even harder.
He smiled back.
…It was nice to make her happy.